Look at the chart. Look at it closely, and consider why it is so. It tracks Telstra’s share price at the end of each quarter for the last eight years. The stock hit a high of $5.26 in early 2005, just before our chart starts, and has never been higher than $5.00 since the gentlemanly and academic Ziggy Switkowski left as CEO a few months later.
Then came the Sol Trujillo era. The brash American and his much-criticised posse of amigos ran the place for four tumultuous years, departing in a cloud of acrimony as the share price tumbled and relations with the Government soured. But Trujillo made important structural reforms, particularly to Telstra’s internal IT systems, the benefits of which were not apparent until long after he left. “Adios Amigo,” were PM Kevin Rudd’s parting words.
Trujillo was replaced in by ex IBMer David Thodey, whose low key collegiate style was to many a welcome change. Thodey has by any standards done a remarkable job, stabilising and then turning around the share price, which at one stage was barely half what it had reached under Switkowski.
Thodey has steered Telstra through the later Rudd Government and all the Gillard Government. Senator Stephen Conroy has been Minister that entire time. The two have a sometimes fractious but basically amicable relationship – neither has ever publicly criticised the other in any significant way.
Thodey has seen the NBN emerge and ensured that no matter what shape it eventually takes Telstra will come out of it well. His negotiations with the Government and NBN CO about NBN’s access to Telstra’s pipes and pits are widely regarded as masterful. It’s hard to imagine how Trujillo would have handled them.
Thodey, in true IBM style, has refocussed Telstra on the customer. Its poor service and high prices were legendary – now the talk on the street is about solid coverage and good service.
The rise in Telstra’s share price is phenomenal, and very important to the whole Australian telecommunications scene. Although it is no longer government owned (though there’s 17% in the Government’s Future Fund), so many Australians own shares that it is still part of the national economic psyche.
There are lots of reasons why Telstra has done well. But it has successfully transitioned through the most difficult time in its history – a decade or two of tumultuous technological and economic change. Now it’s in very good shape, much better than anyone would have predicted just a few years ago.
It would be churlish to say anything other than well done Telstra, well done David Thodey and team.
Graeme Philipson does not own shares in Telstra